The Hottest German Lesson in Town: Deutschland 83 and Major Tom (PLUS Free Lyric & Vocab Sheet)

One of the most wonderful things about learning a foreign language is to get to know the country behind that language. What is beyond the flashcards? What makes that place? It's awesome to dive into history and geography, cook a few recipes (like Shannon from Eurolinguiste) and of course discover what they watch and listen to.

If you're a regular listener of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, you may have already noticed that there is a new German language TV show on the block. Deutschland 83 is a spy drama set in one of my favourite periods of German history: the 1980s, right in the cold war. You can catch it on iTunes, on Amazon, or currently on Channel 4 in the UK.

german lesson deutschland 83

German History: Spies, Terror and Economic Miracles

So here's the world at the time of Deutschland 83: Germany lost a world war and then the Eastern part of the country was made into a Socialist republic. The West started a kick-ass economy that went so well it became known for its Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s. In the 1960s, youth rebellion and peace movement shook our society, and Western Germany even struggled with its own terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. All the while, the Eastern part of Germany was locked away behind a wall and involved in the hottest army race of the 20th century: the Cold War.

Plenty going on at the time of Deutschland 83 then! The show's premise places a young Eastern German soldier into the West, where he's given a new identity and a bunch of adventurous spy tasks. It shows society in the West and East, the big fear of atom bombs laying waste to all of Europe, and a few hilarious scenes where a confused bunch of high-level spies stare at a floppy disc, wondering what it does.

Discover Germany's Answer to David Bowie

One of the unmissable things about Deutschland 83 is its awesome soundtrack. Let me introduce you to its theme song "Major Tom", Germany's synth driven response to the wonderful David Bowie. I've prepared a lyric sheet for German learners which you can download below.

Major Tom, written by Peter Schilling, was inspired by Bowie's song "Space Oddity", which tells the story of an astronaut abandoning his mission, decoupling from base and going off to live in space.  In Germany, the song became a huge hit and one of the flagship sounds of Neue Deutsche Welle, the biggest 1980s pop music trend which also included Nena and her famous song "99 Luftballons". In fact, if you pay attention in episode one of Deutschland 83, you'll hear the song playing in the background at a party in East Germany (where playing Western music would have been an offence!).

Germans have never stopped loving Major Tom, and today there is no good beerfest without everyone shouting völlig schwerelos (completely weightless) and waving their hands about.

Bonus: Major Tom in French

Major Tom's fame was all over Europe in the 80s, so if you're a French learner you can use the same song for study. Here's the cover by Belgian synthmeister Plastic Bertrand (of Ça plane pour moi fame) will make sure that you don't miss out.

If you're listening to this song and can't shake the feeling that you know it from somewhere, it might be because Deutschland 83 is not the first show to feature Major Tom. If you're a fan of AMC's "Breaking Bad", you might remember the Gale Boetticher version - are those Thai subtitles?

Share Your Playlist

I'd love to hear from you about your own favourite 1980s tunes. Do you love pop music like Major Tom? Tell me about your playlist in the comments.

If you love the sound of Major Tom, don't forget to download your free Vocab & Lyric Sheet. 

You can also check out this article to get a step-by-step guide to using music for language learning.


Guest Post: The Top 10 German speaking celebrities

Today I'm very happy to present a guest post from babla's blog. This young group blog is full of interesting articles on language learning. And best of all, they publish nearly every article bilingually. For example, the guest post you'll enjoy today was written and published both in German and in English. I am sharing the English version here, and you can also try out the German version. Check out those lovely Germans!

©img of Daniel Brühl: Fotogramas, ©img of Heidi Klum: Citypress, ©img of Mathias Schweighöfer: Stadtbibliothek Neuss

©img of Daniel Brühl: Fotogramas, ©img of Heidi Klum: Citypress, ©img of Mathias Schweighöfer: Stadtbibliothek Neuss

German is not the easiest language to learn, with all the long words, umlauts and articles. However, I can give you some more motivation to learn it because there are some pretty hot Germans you could talk to if you should meet them on the streets.

Heidi Klum
This should not surprise you. Heidi has been in the model and entertainment business for decades and is not only a German star anymore, but recognised worldwide. She is currently filming the 8th season of Germany's Next Topmodel and is also present on US entertainment shows. We love her!

Daniel Brühl
Daniel is not only a pretty face but also very talented. He played in numerous movies but got very famous with "Good Bye, Lenin". He also starred in “Inglourious Basterds” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”. Plus, if your German is still beginner's level, he also speaks fluent Spanish and French

Lena Gercke
As I mentioned Germany's Next Topmodel, I should also talk about Lena. She won the first season of the show and has been successful in the modelling business ever since. Also, she looks so typically German, she has to be part of this list.

Christoph Waltz
This name should be very familiar to you, especially after the Oscar's a few months ago. Mr. Waltz (German-Austrian) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Django, Unchained", a brilliant movie. His acting is wonderful and despite his age, or maybe because of it, he is somebody to learn German for.

Lena Meyer Landrut
I hope all our European readers are as excited as we are about the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest? It is such an event. Lena has participated twice for Germany and won the contest in 2010. We were all very happy. We don't understand though why she sang for Germany again the year after that...

Matthias Schweighöfer
Oh, Matthias... He is something. He is an actor, owns a fashion label, and made his director debut not so long ago. And please, look at his face... Do I need to say more?

Eva Padberg
Coming back to the supermodels, also Eva Padberg should not go by unnoticed. The pretty German is a very successful model, singer and actress. She just does it all.

©gdcgraphics on flickr

©gdcgraphics on flickr

Til Schweiger
Some hate him, others love him. Til is a German actor, director and producer; he belongs in the German television landscape and has even appeared in international films such as “Inglourious Basterds” alongside Brad Pitt <3

Lukas Podolski
To the football fans among us, Lukas is not an unknown person. He plays for Arsenal FC and the German national team. He was born in a small town in Poland but emigrated to Germany in an early age. He chose to play for the German national team... good for us because he is currently the sixth highest goal scorer in the history of Germany, scoring 44 goals.

Mats Hummels

How can this be a list of Germans without another football player in it? That's right, here it comes. Mats! Hmmmm. The end.

Did you know any of these German VIP's? Can you think of anyone else?

Kerstin adds: Well, if I may suggest Mr Markus Kavka and Miss Charlotte Roche, alternative music enthusiasts and German music television pioneers!